EAMC leaders stop sharing COVID-19 death toll with public, citing courtesy and confusion

News

LEE COUNTY, Ala. (WRBL) – Hospital administrators at East Alabama Medical Center are no longer releasing the number of COVID-19 related deaths that occur inside the hospital, according to EAMC spokesman John Atkinson.  

“To avoid confusion between our records and the records provided by ADPH on their website, and as a courtesy to family members, we will no longer list deaths associated with COVID-19,” wrote Atkinson in a statement issued by the hospital on Wednesday. 

The next EAMC update on the COVID-19 pandemic is anticipated Friday, April 3. 

Before EAMC administrators made this change, the hospital was releasing the number of deaths believed to be a result of COVID-19. Until Wednesday, the hospital had been releasing a total of fatalities to date and where deceased patients were from. Administrators were not sharing some details including name, age, and any underlying medical conditions which may have affected a patient previous to infection with coronavirus.

As of Wednesday, April 1, 2020, the hospital, in a written statement, said it will no longer release the total number of COVID-19-related deaths at the facility.

When asked by News 3 why EAMC had changed it’s policy and ceased releasing the tally of COVID-19 related deaths at the hospital, Atkinson cited current practice by other medical facilities saying no other hospital in the state of Alabama is releasing information about the total number of deaths.

In Columbus, neither Piedmont Columbus Regional or St. Francis Emory are releasing a tally of COVID-19 related fatalities which occur at their facilities.

Phoebe Health has been regularly releasing information about COVID-19 related deaths at its three medical facilities; Phoebe Sumter in Americus, Phoebe Putney in Albany, and Phoebe Worth in Sylvester, Georgia. 

Atkinson said the reason EAMC originally released information about the number of COVID-19 related fatalities was to inform the community immediately of the gravity of the pandemic.

The last report issued by East Alabama Medical Center on Monday, March 30, 2020, confirmed seven people had died so far at EAMC due to the virus. Five were from Chambers County. Two were from Lee County.

Thursday, April 2, 2020, the Alabama Department of Public Health website listed “reported deaths” and in a separate column, “died from illness” COVID-19 deaths. In the News 3 viewing area of East Alabama, there were four COVID-19 deaths died from illness deaths reported in Chambers County, two in Lee County, and one in Tallapoosa County.

Information on the ADPH website appears to lag a few days behind the information previously being provided at the local level in East Alabama. 

At this point, Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said he believes the death toll related to COVID-19 in Lee County is higher than the latest publicly available numbers.  

“My job is to protect the health and wellbeing of Lee County citizens. As far as I know, we have had seven deaths at EAMC,” said Harris. “I’m fairly confident there may have been more, but I am not notified on deaths there of patients that have been admitted more than 24 hours unless the death was by suspected unnatural means. ”

Furthermore, Harris commented on how COVID-19 deaths are being reported by the Alabama Department of Public Health. 

“I am seeking to get more accurate information as I believe the state is not counting the deaths correctly,” said Harris. “They appear to be counting the deaths as where the patient lived and not where they died. The death certificate is a permanent legal record. And, the place of death on the death certificate is the location of where they physically died.”

Thursday, Harris told News 3 he is also requesting all funeral homes in Lee County to notify the coroner’s office of all deaths they receive.

“This will allow me to research the death and investigate the death to make sure that no COVID-19 deaths are slipping through the cracks,” said Harris. 

The following statement was released by East Alabama Medical Center on April 1, 2020, included the following information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.  

In the Hospital

30 – the number of patients currently hospitalized at EAMC with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.  

16 – the number of patients previously hospitalized with COVID-19 who have been discharged.

12 – the number of patients currently hospitalized with suspected COVID-19.

20 – the number of patients currently hospitalized who were previously suspected of COVID-19, but have since received a negative test result.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases by county in EAMC immediate service area

(NOTE: To avoid confusion between our records and the records provided by ADPH on their website, and as a courtesy to family members, we will no longer list deaths associated with COVID-19.)

Lee County – 82

Chambers County – 45

Tallapoosa County – 14

Randolph County – 5

Bullock County – 3

Clay County – 3

Macon County – 1

Russell County – 1

EAMC COVID-19 Testing Statistics

1325 – the # of COVID-19 tests submitted by EAMC

948 – the # of COVID-19 tests that were NEGATIVE

246 – the # of COVID-19 tests that are pending results 

17% – the percentage of tests submitted by EAMC in Alabama (1325 out of 7774)

11.9% – the percentage of EAMC test kits that have tested positive

Changes to Supplies Needed

We are thankful for Auburn University and local businesses that have generously donated needed supplies and equipment. While we are currently stable in the number of ventilators, supplies, and other equipment, we still could use help with certain items. Businesses with access to the items listed below who wish to donate them may bring them to the collection site outside of EAMC’s Main Lobby between 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. each weekday. An EAMC representative will be there to collect the supplies.

New supplies needed:

  • Bleach wipes (must specify that they kill C. difficile spores) (these are industrial grade and not available in stores)
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Latex-free gloves: exam, nitrile

Additional supplies still being accepted:

  • Isolation gowns: non-sterile, impervious
  • Masks: surgical, procedure, earloop, earloop with face shield, or fog-free procedure mask
  • Latex gloves: exam, nitrile or chemo
  • Hand sanitizer: 70% ethyl alcohol

Shelter in Place at Home – Now More Than Ever

While there is not yet a mandate to shelter in place, EAMC encourages it as the best way to stop the spread of COVID-19. Community leaders, city officials, and the media have shared this important message, but there are still reports of group gathering, children playing in neighborhood parks, dinner parties, bible studies, and other events. These gatherings are part of our everyday life and may seem harmless, but continuing to participate in such events will allow COVID-19 to spread further throughout our community and infect the most vulnerable among us. Please stay at home with immediate family members only and do not leave your home except for essential activities such as food, medical care, or work. When you do venture out, you should maintain a 6-foot distance from other people, wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds each time, and frequently disinfect high-touch surfaces.

Nursing Home Update

With nursing homes and other long-term facilities under a state-ordered no-visitors policy, some people have asked how they can help. The simplest way to help is by sending a greeting card or letter that could be shared with any of the residents at Oak Park Nursing Home and Independent Living Community, the EAMC-Lanier Nursing Home or at EAMC Skilled Nursing Facility. Proper infection control protocols are in place to ensure this can be done while maintaining the safety of our residents and staff. If the public is interested in sending letters to residents, they can send them to this address:

Nursing Home Resident

Oak Park1365 Gatewood Drive

Auburn AL 36830

Meal Donations for EAMC Employees

Over the past two weeks, the Auburn and Opelika Chambers of Commerce, as well as area businesses and individuals in our community, have provided meals to EAMC employees on the frontline of COVID-19 who are working hard to help hospitalized patients recover. Due to extended work hours and restrictions in place to protect patients and staff, employees are not able to leave their work areas or have easy access to meals. Businesses, organizations, and individuals interested in donating funds for staff meals needed during COVID-19 may do so now through the EAMC Foundation. A specific fund has been set up by the Foundation to help with such donations. Here’s the link to where you can donate:

https://eamcfoundation8686.thankyou4caring.org/covid-19-relief

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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